Deed offers disease risk strategy

An emergency disease agreement being drafted aims to bring the marine sector into line with land-based agriculture

Abalone, oysters, Sardines and prawns: these are just a few of species affected during the past decade by devastating diseases previously unknown in Australian waters.

In the wake of disease outbreaks, the need to protect these species and the industries that rely on them has been the impetus for efforts to establish an aquatic animal disease emergency response agreement, to be called the Aquatic Deed. The deed will promote a greater biosecurity culture and more rapid response to an aquatic disease outbreak including industry representation during the response , agreed compensation for impacted farmers and agreed cost sharing between state and Commonwealth Governments and industry. Work on the project has accelerated following the 2016 outbreak of Pacific Oyster mortality syndrome in Tasmania and white spot disease outbreak in farmed prawns in south-east Queensland last year.

A draft agreement is expected to be ready for stakeholder comment from early 2018. It is being modelled on similar agreements to those in place for land animals and plants.

At the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, senior policy officer Katie Scutt is part of the team drafting the agreement. She says extensive stakeholder consultation is underway, which includes presentations at a diverse range of seafood sector events, including the national Seafood Directions conference in Sydney from 27 to 29 September.

The Aquatic Deed working group includes representatives from the Abalone, Atlantic Salmon, Barramundi, oyster, pearl, prawn, Southern Bluefin Tuna and wild-capture industries, as well as most state and Commonwealth governments. All levels of government are engaged in the project, up to ministerial level, and agricultural ministers discussed the Aquatic Deed at a meeting on 26 July 2017.

Katie Scutt says the national project officially began in 2014, with a four-year work plan for the agreement. However, this has built on earlier work that followed the first outbreaks of Abalone viral ganglioneuritis in 2006 in Victoria and then 2008 in Tasmania.

Aquatic animal resources are unique in that biosecurity risks are shared across many users, from aquaculture farmers to recreational and wild-capture fishers. Katie Scutt says all sectors will benefit from an effective emergency response and all have a part to play in good biosecurity practices.

The Aquatic Deed is being developed to apply to both farmed and wild stocks on an sector-by-sector basis (for example, Abalone viral ganglioneuritis affected farmed and wild abalone populations).

The president of the Australian Prawn Farmers Association, Matt West, says the prawn sector is acutely aware of the impact of exotic diseases, having just been through the outbreak of white spot disease in Queensland. He says there were many negotiations involved at all levels of government to control the disease, but some decisions could have been fast-tracked had the Aquatic Deed already been in place.

“And while we had good relations with the agencies involved, we did not have a seat at the table when decisions were made, we were basically passive observers. Being party to a deed would effectively have given us more say.

“We would already have agreed on who would do what, and who would pay for what. We would also have known what kind of financial commitment we were looking at, and over what time frame.”

Matt West says he believes the certainty of a deed and the inclusion of cost-sharing also raises the stakes in terms of obligations and responsibilities for all parties involved. Knowing the potential financial ramifications can motivate better biosecurity.

“We recognise it’s complicated to set up an agreement, which is one reason why it’s taken so long to eventuate, but we’re committed to being involved,” he says.

Once the agreement has been finalised it will require the approval of all state and territory governments and the Australian Government. National industry peak bodies will be able to choose to opt in on behalf of their members, with mutual obligations from industry and government to implement agreed biosecurity practices. 

Katie Scutt will provide an update on the Aquatic Deed on Friday 29 September 2017 at the Seafood Directions conference in Sydney.